Eugene McGee: GAA funds should create jobs for emigrating youth
Recent reports from the Kerry County Board informed us that nearly 200 registered players from the Kingdom have emigrated so far this year to the four corners of the earth in search of work, as unemployment wraps its icy fingers around the best of our young people.
And we can be sure that similar pro-rata numbers are departing from every county in Ireland for the same reason, which means that several thousand GAA players will be missing from clubs throughout the land when the 2011 season comes around.
It is not putting it too strongly to state that this represents a catastrophe for hundreds of GAA clubs because the loss of even a handful of established players can undermine a club -- particularly small rural clubs -- with a very small catchment area, such as a sparsely populated parish or the many 'half-parishes' that exist in GAA land.
The GAA has always prided itself on the high level of practical patriotism it preaches and, overall, this is a valid claim.
There is no denying that a large number of GAA members do regard their membership as a form of patriotism based on making Ireland, locally and nationally, a better place.
That is why the GAA all over the country is now facing a major dilemma caused by the latest wave of youth emigration.
The Kerry statistic is only the tip of the iceberg and this is the greatest problem facing the GAA right now and for the next few years as our imploding economy struggles to survive on life-support.
Many GAA players just hung around on the dole last summer while their clubs were involved in the county championships, but are now leaving in droves.
This, of course, has been a familiar theme in Irish and GAA life at regular intervals over the past 100 years and the only difference now is that so many of a playing age are leaving.
Also unfortunate is the fact that so many well-educated young people, including third-level graduates, are getting out of Ireland, because such young men are vital for any GAA club, rural or urban, not just as valuable players but also because many progress as leaders on and off the field in subsequent years.
Small rural clubs are the worst victims of emigration because the loss of half a dozen can move a club towards extinction. In parishes in Leitrim and other west of Ireland counties it was often said that they could field a stronger team in New York or London than in their home parish.
But large clubs in towns have the same problem because unemployment is rampant in those areas also and there is a tendency for lads from urban clubs to emigrate in packs of three or four to some foreign land so that they can have a sense of comradeship, which was so important to them with their native club.
If the practical patriotism which the GAA espouses means anything, it should be addressing the emigration of its brightest and best players.
Nothing could be more fundamental to that concept than keeping young Irish people employed in their own country.
There have always been GAA units who have 'fixed up' players with jobs, usually on an individual basis and with the co-operation of a GAA-inclined employer. But a lot more than that is required now.
There ARE some ways by which the GAA could directly employ players if they were to redirect some of their money that way.
For example, several players could be trained quickly to carry out basic coaching for youngsters in schools that would also promote the games.
Most of the larger counties should be able to finance between 10 and 20 people in this way and provide them with a decent living for a couple of years.
If county boards like Meath can hand out €11,000 every month to pay those in charge of the county team, they should be able to do the same to keep young GAA players working in the county, and so should other counties.
County boards or large clubs should also be able to set up FAS-type work schemes from their own resources to keep some playing-members at least on subsistence income. Many players would settle for that for a while rather than having to emigrate to a strange country. That would be investing in the very future of the GAA's own people.
But the GAA has a poor record in the past of actively creating work for potential emigrants or the determination to really help unemployed members. If they REALLY applied themselves to the problem they could redirect some of their money in that direction and away from county teams.
They could take a 10pc levy off all gate revenue at all levels, including television and advertising revenue, county team training costs and various other grant-aided schemes over the next two years for a start.
In that way the GAA could easily accumulate a fund of several million euro to provide sustainable employment for their own young unemployed.
Now that would be practical patriotism. But is there a will with GAA officers at national level and in every county to take initiatives like these?
Or will they instead make up excuses for why it CAN'T be done? Very few of these people have ever been unemployed or forced to emigrate. They live in a different world where they TALK a lot about youth emigration but do little of a practical nature to help out.
But as the largest organisation in the county that is awash with money relative to most other Irish organisations, surely the GAA has the clout to do a lot more than just complain about our young players having to walk away from the games they love?
It would be a nice change if leading GAA politicians were to stop imitating other politicians, by talking a lot but doing very little, and instead provide several million euro from their own resources to stimulate employment for players.
And I am sure GPA members would have no qualms about throwing any player grants they may receive this year into the same kitty to be used for less well-off players.